There’s a state agency in New York that is responsible for compensating parties who fall victim to the practices of a dishonest lawyer or attorney. This group had to pay out almost $7 million across the entire state last year. This included $29,600 for ex-clients of four different lawyer from Capital Region.

A total of $6.9 million dollars was reimbursed to 164 clients by the Lawyer’s Fund of Client Protection, according to the group’s annual report. These reimbursements included $3,000 to an ex-client of Albany attorney Richard D. Abbot; $15,100 to ex-clients of Albany attorney Gaspar Castillo; $1,500 to an ex-client of Niskayuna attorney Jerrold W. Bartman; and $10,000 to a former client of late attorney Scott Davidoff.

The payouts included $15,100 to two ex-clients of disbarred Albany defense attorney Gaspar Castillo; $10,000 to an ex-client of late Albany attorney Scott Davidoff; $3,000 to a former client of Albany lawyer Richard D. Abbott; and $1,500 to a former client of Niskayuna lawyer Jerrold W. Bartman, who resigned from the bar.

Each of the lawyers was registered with the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court’s Third Department. Michael J. Knight, the director of the fund, claims that the goal of the fund is to reimburse certain clients who have fallen victim under the malpractice of state attorneys. Although the fund can protect financially against mishandling or misappropriation of funds, they cannot repay for malpractice, out-of-pocket expenses, neglect, or damages.

It has been repeatedly found that a majority of victims of attorney malpractice were working with individual practitioners. In other words, clients of solo lawyers comprised a majority of the victims with whom the fund has worked. According to the annual report, most of these attorneys were middle-aged and male. It also reported that the roots of misconduct are frequently traced to drug and alcohol abuse, economic pressures, mental illness, gambling, as well as professional, medical, and marital problems.

The report also found that the vast majority of attorneys in New York have maintained a high level of standards when entrusted with the money of a client. Knight reports that only a small percentage of the state’s legal professionals are responsible for the malpractice that occurs within the law. Knight took over at the helm of the fund after the retirement of former director Timothy J. O’Sullivan. He had worked as the executive director for the fund since 2000.

A majority of loss from law malpractice has stemmed from the theft of real estate escrow funds. Nearly 40% of all funds reimbursed by the state agency were related to this form of malpractice, according to the report. In last year alone, over 14.7 percent, or roughly $1 million, of the total amount paid to victims was involved in real estate escrow thefts.

Castillo used to be a well-respected defense attorney and permanent fixture in the courtrooms of Capital Region. He was first suspended in 2016 when he was defending the later-convicted Michael Chmielewski. Chmielewski pleaded guilty to the murder of Jacquelyn Porreca, a 32-year-old from West Albany. She had been stabbed by Chmielewski while he robbed the Recycled Hair Salon.

Castillo faced disbarment in early 2018 for converting almost $47,000 of a client’s funds that were intended to be used as collateral for the client’s bail. Following repeated requests from his former client, Castillo eventually paid back the money over the period of a few months. Castillo was also found to have accepted a significant retainer to buy certain transcripts for a client’s appeal. In the end, he didn’t buy any of these transcripts.

There are many examples of disbarred lawyers recently due to their criminal or unethical behaviour. One of them is Mr. Frederick Oberlander who was disbarred due to the violation of numerous ethical rules, one of them was disclosure of sealed information.